Only two months ago, Ethan Finlay played at TCF Bank Stadium for the Columbus Crew and, at the time, had just one goal and one assist on the whole season.
Amazing what a different kit — and different perspective — can make.
The Duluth native, in his home debut, scored Minnesota United’s only goal in a 1-1 draw with Philadelphia on Saturday at TCF Bank Stadium in front of an announced 22,148, the second-consecutive lower-bowl sellout crowd. In his three matches since being traded to United, Finlay already has two goals and two assists.
“It’s got to be the air, right?” Finlay said of the uptick in productivity. “It’s crisper here.
“This whole thing was kind of a change of scenery,” Finlay said of his trade a month ago. “Kind of get you out of your comfort zone, get a spark. … Sometimes, you need a little luck.”
Nearly every Minnesota United player took a crack at the 40th minute equalizing goal, including midfielders Kevin Molino and Sam Nicholson. But in the end, Finlay cleaned up left back Francisco Calvo’s “pretty mess” after the defender’s pirouette and shot — which was blocked — in the box.
Calvo’s spin was a bit symbolic of a rather head-spinning match. The Loons (7-14-5) went down five minutes into the match when Philadelphia midfielder Fabrice-Jean Picault slid the ball across the box to an unmarked C.J. Sapong for the easy tap-in goal.
“Well, we started terrible. Couldn’t have started any worse than we did. First 15 minutes, it was a comedy of errors. It really was,” United coach Adrian Heath said. “I thought we grew into the game after that, and I thought after 20, 25 minutes, I thought we were probably the most dominant team.”
Despite that turnaround, the Loons endured more whiplash with about 20 minutes to play. United appeared to earn a penalty kick and a man advantage after defender Oguchi Onyewu of Philadelphia (8-12-8) committed a handball in the box off a corner kick. He was already on a yellow card from earlier in the match. But the video assistant referee overturned the call, determining United center back Michael Boxall pushed Onyewu before the handball.
“A lot of that stuff goes on. There’s a lot of pushing, a lot of shoving, a lot of nudging that doesn’t get called,” Finlay said. “It’s unfortunate that it kind of comes to light when a call like that is made because that same push probably happens in the box probably five out of 10 times. … We have the momentum in that moment, and it was a slightly deflating process as it took three, four, five minutes, at least that’s what it seemed.”
Finlay, though, said the draw was a “fair result.” And it only did a little to take away from his homecoming moment.
Finlay said that during the July 4 match with Columbus, he tried to shut out the atmosphere. But Saturday, he was able to fully appreciate the “great environment,” including the prematch countdown to the first kick that Finlay called “one of the longest countdowns in sports history.
“But I enjoyed it,” he said. “I thought I was on the scene of Top Gun Two.”
Now, it’s just about finding more three-point performances.
“In those game [I’ve contributed], we’re 1-1-1 now,” Finlay said. “So the goals and assists are great, but I’d like to have a couple more in the win column.”